Numbers, Numbers everywhere so let's all have a drink.

Dear Doug,

Q: On my computer keyboard, the number pad starts with 1 on the bottom row. On my phone the numbers start with 1 on the top row.

Why are these two similar systems diametrically opposed? Is it like the struggle of capitalism vs. socialism? Why can't we all just get along?


A: Hm.  This one doesn't have the same answer as the "QWERTY" layout for keyboards, which was a mechanical solution to jamming early typewriters.  But it may be something similar, on a a psychological level, giving the user what they expect for the function of the pad.

I have no conclusive proof for this theory, but here it is.

Computer number pads are arranged in the same configuration as the buttons on a calculator, counting up from the bottom from 0.  This would be the expected behavior for early mass-produced computers, since they were (until a decade or two ago, in fact) considered to be nothing much more than very complicated and powerful calculators themselves.  VisiCalc, a spreadsheet program, was the first "killer app" for personal computers after all, and the reason people bought them in the early days - as a piece of accounting hardware.

Cell phones, however, developed from landline phones with keypads, which in turn developed from rotary phones.  Rotary phones counted upwards from 1,  starting at the top and going counter-clockwise around the dial to end at 0, which, besides being a number, represented the "O" in "Operator", making it a special space on the dial.  When phones moved from rotary to tuoch-tone dialing, the format of 1 to 9 going down with 0 in a special place at the bottom was maintained for familiarity and ease of use.  When equivalents for letters were needed, the letters of the alphabet were arranged in the same way, going from A to Z in groups in the same arrangement as the numbers, with the special buttons * and # at the bottom with the magic 0.


The problem, as you've already figured out, is when cell phones are computers, as is almost universally the case now.  No open warfare has broken out, and as far as I know, no one has mysteriously disappeared due to conflicts over how keypads are laid out.  So I have to conclude, even given that this is a mystery, that no secret societies are involved.

Well,... of course the vampires and the Bavarian Illuminati are involved, but that's always a given.

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